Dreams and the Brain

On the topic of dreams and the brain is a quote from William Dement a pioneering sleep researcher:

“We experience a dream as real because it is real…the miracle is how, without any help from the sense organs, the brain replicates in the dream all the sensory information that creates the world we live in when we are awake.”

The brain is an amazing organ, and it is fascinating to discover the relationship between dreams and the brain and what is going on while we sleep.
Read on to find out…..

Replacing the mystical view of dreams with a real understanding of modern dream science, provides a more complete picture of the relationship between dreams and the brain. And not only does this help us to understand how our brain creates dreams, but it is also important for the science of consciousness and health.

With new technological advancements in neural imaging, with the advent of PET, CAT scans and MRI’s, recent research has delved further into understanding dreams and the brain than ever before. Which is exciting news!

For the first time a “science of Dreaming” has been developed. If you are interested in reading in more detail about the science of dreaming I have recommended some vital books on the topic at the end of this article.

For the first time we now know that the brain becomes re-activated when we enter dream sleep or REM.

As the brain goes to sleep it becomes less activated and then like clockwork several times a night becomes re-activated as it is in waking but with a major difference.

It is selectively re-activated.

That is, it has been re-activated in a way that allows it to deal with internal sensations as opposed to external sensations.
So only part of the brain wakes up and it seems to be even more active than it is during waking. As some areas are becoming re-activated some are becoming de-activated.

More specifically:

The dorsal lateral pre-frontal cortex becomes de-activated when we are dreaming. This is the part of the brain responsible for decisions or volition. This is also the rational part of the brain, however there are other areas of the brain that deal with rationality so we don’t loose all rational thinking when we dream.

New research into dreams and the brain from a computerized imaging technique called PET (positron emission tomography) in the mid-1990s showed that Rapid Eye Movement dreaming begins in the limbic region of the brain...the most ancient part, which controls emotions.

So if the emotional region of the brain is highly active during dreaming this goes a long way in explaining why our dreams have such high emotional content.
Researchers do know that emotions are very important in dreams. Emotions find their way into our dreams by bringing up similar memories of that emotion from the past and kind of work them in together.

Why are dreams so difficult to remember?

This has everything to do with brain chemistry, and changes that go on when we fall asleep and start dreaming.

The chemistry in the brain radically changes when some parts of the brain are reactivated during sleep and others are not.
When we are awake certain neurotransmitters allow us to be able to have short-term memory.

During the dream state the chemistry changes in such a way that we lose very quickly what we have just dreamt, unless we record it in some way.
In essence the brain chemistry of our dreaming brain is not designed to remember dreams.

Why do dream images not really make sense or seem so bizarre?

This is due to the lack of the main rational centre, which is deactivated during our dream sleep, and the chemical changes that go on while we are dreaming.

Because we are only relying on internal perceptions and memories, we only have certain information to work with to convey the images we are seeing.

For example, when we are awake we can look around and know where we are and what is in front of us, we can reality check. When we are dreaming we cannot do this. The reality check is the dream itself.

So because of the changes in the brain our dreams just unfold for us without us controlling them, unless you know how to lucid dream we cannot decide how the dream unfolds.

Because of the areas that are active in the brain while we dream anything can happen in our dreams and the brain becomes hyper-associative. This means we are more able to think outside the box than in waking life.

We can break the pattern.

Our dreams are allowing us to go in different ways and directions than we allow ourselves in waking life.

Book Recommendations

Dreaming: An Introduction to the Science of Sleep (Paperback)
J. Allan Hobson

A short introduction to the science of dreaming examining both questions related specifically to dreaming as well as the relationship between dreams and the brain in the areas of learning, memory and consciousness.

Our Dreaming Mind (Paperback)
by Robert Van De Castle

"Van de Castle spreads before us the dazzling landscape of dreams, in its breadth and depth, showing how ancient wisdom and scientific discoveries apply to our personal dream lives. This book is packed with new and valuable information for all dreamers. " Patricia Garfield, Ph.D.

Sleep and Dreaming: Scientific Advances and Reconsiderations (Paperback)
by Edward F. Pace-Schott

Essentially this book covers all the modern research on the science of dreaming. It is a compilation of 5 papers by contemporary leading scientists covering topics such as the mechanisms of dreaming and REM sleep, memory consolidation in REM sleep, and an evolutionary hypothesis of the function of dreaming.

The Mind at Night: The New Science of How and Why We Dream (Hardcover)
by Andrea Rock

A compendium of dream research from the discovery of REM sleep in the 1950’s to today’s focus on the role of the different parts of the brain during dreaming and the nature of memory. This book presents a complete account of modern dream research.

Dreaming as Delirium: How the Brain Goes Out of Its Mind (Paperback)
by J. Allan Hobson

A meandering of personal stories and hard cold facts this book presents the latest on the field of neuroscience and what we know today about our sleeping lives.

The New Science of Dreaming [Three Volumes] (Hardcover)
by Deirdre Barrett, Patrick McNamara

From cultural, gender and personality studies of dream themes to modern brain imaging techniques, this is the newest source of information on dreaming out there. The message is quite clear - brain function affects and is affected by dreaming and ths book conveys how important this is to each and everyone of us.

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